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Blue Devils lose three straight at Bearden

It wasn’t a trip to pad the record books, according to Unicoi County High School Blue Devil head coach John English.
The Unicoi County High School Blue Devil basketball team (9-8) finished its run in the Knox Bearden Super 16 tournament on Monday, Dec. 29, against York Institute. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, Monday’s game ended as the two previous tournament games had – with a loss. York Institute defeated UCHS 56-50.
“You don’t schedule these kind of games to pad your records,” head coach John English said. “We scheduled this to get our guys a look at top tier talent and we got that the past three days. They have a Division I caliber player who we had trouble containing.”
Blue Devil senior Davis Webb led the Blue Devils with 13 points against York Institute.
UCHS held a 32-24 lead at the half before York came roaring back to cut the deficit to one, 38-37, heading into the fourth.
English was also issued a pair of technicals in the game, suspending the coach for the upcoming games against Madison County and Sullivan South.
“It is was it is,” English said. “I don’t feel like I got my money’s worth, but we’ll adjust. I thought the tournament was a good experience for our guys to learn and they’ll improve.”
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The Blue Devils were without senior Zach Thelen due to an ankle injury from the opening game, but still exploded out of the gate against Loudon County on Saturday, Dec. 27, to hold a 46-31 heading into the fourth.
UCHS bumped the lead up to 16 in the period, but the Redskins turned up the tempo, outscoring the Blue Devils 23-6, to escape with a 54-52 triumph.
“We turned up the heat early in the third, it was probably our best quarter of basketball this year, but Loudon really came on during the fourth and swung the momentum in their favor,” English said. “The officiating in Knoxville is a bit different than our area; it gets a little more physical. We want to see that and hope to see it during postseason time, but it was something our guys weren’t used to.”
Merrick Nicksic led the way with 15 points on the night and emerged as a leader with Thelen sidelined, English added.
“Merrick really played well,” he said. “He stepped in with his ball handling and helped us with Zach out.”
Sophomore Jacob Smith also turned in a solid performance, according to the head coach, playing one of his better basketball games of the year.
“Now, nobody really played well in that fourth,” English said, “but Jacob had one of his best games against Loudon. He was out for his freshman year with an ankle injury and didn’t get cleared until this year for football. The more time he sees, he just gets better.
“It is just one of the times where everybody has showed flashes, but shown struggles, too. But that’s what we want out of this tournament. We’ve told our guys that we just have to ignore our overall record and focus on that 3-0 record in the district. You come to this tournaments to get better. The Loudon loss was disappointing, but it’s one of those games that will help us in the long run.”
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UCHS opened the tournament on Friday, Dec. 26, against the undefeated Knox Bearden Bulldogs.
The Blue Devils kept things close in the first period but the ‘Dogs would move ahead to secure a 70-39 decision.
“We’ve looked at three of our losses against AAA schools,” English said. “Against (North) Buncombe, David Crockett and Bearden and they’re combined 47-0. ”
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The Blue Devils will get back into the normal routine of the regular season on Friday, Jan. 2, when they travel to Madison County, N.C.
They will head into Three Rivers Conference action the following week with games at Sullivan South on Tuesday, Jan. 6, and Johnson County on Friday, Jan. 9.
The junior varsity team is scheduled to play at 5 p.m. each day. The varsity game is scheduled for 8 p.m.